Precisely cut handmade dovetails are a thing of beauty and a mark of true craftsmanship. But achieving a perfect joint only comes from careful attention to the process. One key step is the chopping away of waste wood between the saw kerfs. Typically, this is accomplished with a sharp chisel and skilled hands, but there are tricks to increasing your accuracy.
Master cabinetmaker Craig Vandall Stevens is exacting in how he cuts dovetails — and the results show. He achieves his high level of precision partly by using a simply-made, but carefully thought out, chopping block guide. Made from Hickory, this guide provides an accurate 90 degree vertical reference face for aligning the chisel. You can make this block and learn how to use it in just a few minutes. So why not give Craig’s method a try? (5 Minute Woodworking Video)
Very nice video. I’ll try this out on my next set of dovetails!
Thanks for the video!
Do you sometimes start a small cut on the backside of the work with a chisel and then start on the top side afterward? Would a technique like this be more useful for some particular woods? I’ve had problems when I’m almost all done but then it splits the wood at the last part (instead of cuts where I want it). Perhaps this is due to another mistake I’m making?
Keith Note: Good question. Craig’s method, which is a common approach, is to cut half way through and then flip the piece and cut from the opposite side. This is explained well in this video: How to Cut Dovetails
Excellent. I look forward to more viewing.
Keith, I just wanted to take a second to let you know how impressed I am with not only your site, but your content as well. I have trained 100’s of people to blog professionally, and you are a real class act. Job well done. On a side note, and possibly more important, I am just getting into woodworking and have found your instruction incredibly valuable. Thanks for all you do.
Hello guys, I am about to start my project using MDF boards, (30mm). I have never done a dovetail joint with (this material) so wish me luck. I will send Keith a picture of the joint, or a picture of it in the bin.
Keith’s Note: Wish you the best. Just to clarify to others who may read this later – I would think that MDF is probably better joined using one of a variety of modern fastening techniques. But a greater explanation is for another time.
Love the method. I had trouble lining up the block with the work piece so I put a chisel in the scribe line and tapped the piece till it was square against the block. Getting the clamps sorta tight where I can do this is the trick. That engineer’s pencil is a winner too, I just might eventually make a dovetail joint.
Very nicely explained. This method adds confidence to the process.